A few years ago, I did a thing where I picked a movie that would make a good double-feature with one of the stories in my then-newest collection, Painted Monsters. This year, for the Countdown to Halloween, I thought it might be fun to do the same thing, but with my now-newest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

This is probably the easiest one in the book. While plenty of other stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales owe moments or aesthetics to specific films, few of them have their roots sunk as deeply into one particular moment in one particular movie as the title story, “Guignol.”

The scene in question is one in the Stuart Gordon flick, Dolls, which also happens to be a favorite of mine. I love movies about creepy dolls, construct lifeforms, killer automata, you name it. And, of course, for anyone with those predilections, the various Full Moon flicks–the Puppetmaster series most notably, but there are plenty of others–are going to be significant.

Dolls feels of a piece with those, but also connected to Gordon’s early Lovecraft films, which were shot around the same time. And it also feels like a throwback to the old dark house films of the ’20s and ’30s. So it is my jam, is what I’m saying.

There’s lots of good stuff in Dolls, but the one scene in particular that formed the germ of “Guignol” is the fate of one of the film’s very British punk rocker girls, who is transformed into a doll via a particularly grisly process that has always stuck with me.

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A few years ago, I did a thing where I picked a movie that would make a good double-feature with one of the stories in my then-newest collection, Painted Monsters. This year, for the Countdown to Halloween, I thought it might be fun to do the same thing, but with my now-newest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

“The Lesser Keys” was written for a collection of novellas and novelettes set in the Roaring ’20s called Jazz Age Cthulhu. I did a bunch of research to try to bring to life a Lovecraftian version of 1920s Kansas City, when this place was still called the “Paris of the Plains.”

A lot of what went into “The Lesser Keys” owes its origins to that research, and to wandering around Kansas City itself, and to the writing of folks like Dashiell Hammett. To whit, probably the best movie to do as a double-feature with this story is a genuine noir film from the ’30s or ’40s–say one of the various Thin Man movies that were adapted from Hammett’s own work.

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That said, I’d be hard pressed to pick a single one to pair with “The Lesser Keys,” so here’s another possibility: Another story that combines hard-boiled aesthetics with Lovecraftian occult trappings, albeit this time to more comedic effect: The overworked, underseen, and frequently problematic Cast a Deadly Spell.

I am not a person who has very many traditions. I don’t even manage to watch movies on a certain day every year, no matter how hard I may try to always catch The Fog on April 21 or Return of the Living Dead on July 3. But one tradition that I’ve managed to keep going for five years now–including the year I had an emergency appendectomy that nearly killed me–is Nerdoween.

Put on by Greg and Jenius of the Nerds of Nostalgia and Nightmare Junkhead podcasts, Nerdoween is an annual Halloween institution; one night, three horror movies that aren’t revealed until they’re shown, all following a theme. Nerdoween has been going for five years now, and I’ve been there every year, front row center. (That last part isn’t quite true. I sat in the second row this year because it was better for my shoulder. In other news, I am old.)

Every year, I’ve managed to see at least one film that I hadn’t seen before–until this year. The first year, the theme was demons, and I caught both Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time, believe it or not. The second year, the theme was sequels, and I saw both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for the first time.

The theme for the third year was anthologies, which seems a likely place for them to strike out, but I actually caught Tales from the Hood for the first time that year. (The other two were a couple of favorites; Creepshow and Waxwork.) The fourth year was sleazy sci-fi, where I got to see Xtro for the first time.

This year’s theme, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, was “nouns that kill.” We started out with killer cars and Stephen King’s cocaine-fueled rampage Maximum Overdrive, which is really an ideal movie for this kind of event. We followed that up with killer kids and Cooties, which the audience seemed to go wild for.

The final film of the night would have been animals that kill in the form of Arachnophobia, but that was destined to fall victim to a one-two punch. My adopted brother Jay has gone with me to every one of these since I started, and this one was no exception. Thing is, though, Jay doesn’t do spiders. And me? I had literally watched Arachnophobia 14 days ago for work.

Even that might not have been enough to doom the enterprise, but I’m actually going out again tomorrow for Dismember the Alamo (it’ll be my first time), where I’ll be watching four movies. Then Analog Sunday the next day. Then probably another mystery movie night on Monday. Then possibly Horror Roulette. Then definitely a Ghoulish Evening with Orrin Grey and Signal Horizon at the Afterword Tavern & Shelves on Wednesday. So an early night wasn’t a bad call for me.

Even if I had stayed for Arachnophobia, this would have been the first year that Nerdoween didn’t introduce me to a new flick that I hadn’t seen before. For someone whose movie viewing–especially in the horror genre–is as prolific as my own, that’s a pretty impressive feat. And I’ll be there next year, whatever the theme might be, front (or maybe second) row center.

A few years ago, I did a thing where I picked a movie that would make a good double-feature with one of the stories in my then-newest collection, Painted Monsters. This year, for the Countdown to Halloween, I thought it might be fun to do the same thing, but with my now-newest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

As the name might imply, Guignol is not as beholden to movies as Painted Monsters was, but this is me, after all, so there are cinematic threads running all through the films. And even when there aren’t, there are plenty of opportunities for me to find movies that will make a good pairing. So, without further ado, here’s the first of the stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, and I’ll be doing another every day until Halloween.

“Dream House” begins at the 2014 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, and follows the unnamed narrator (who is me) in my efforts to track down some “lost” episodes of a fictional Southern Gothic soap opera. As such, the story is crammed to the absolute gills with nods to various movies and TV shows, from Curse of the Crimson Altar to Virgin Witch to The Lurking Fear to that “Pickman’s Model” episode of Night Gallery and way, way, way beyond.

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Honestly, the best double-bill with “Dream House” would probably be an episode of any of the TV shows that it mentions, whether that’s Night Gallery or Renegade. Put an old TV show on in the background while you read, preferably in a hotel room, and you’ve got the “Dream House” magic going. But I didn’t say I was going to recommend ambiance, I said I was gonna pair movies, and the movie I’d pair with this story is probably John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, another flick that gets referenced in the text, and has a similar logline to boot.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be posting once a day through the end of the month, suggesting (usually) scary movies that pair well with all 14 stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales. The posts are already written and scheduled because, frankly, the next 14 days are gonna be busy with work and watching countless movies of my own–I’ve got at least 8 on tap in the next three days, all at the theatre.

tod-brownings-mark-of-the-vampireSo, while my Countdown to Halloween duties may be adequately covered for the year, I didn’t feel right not leaving you with a little something extra during my absence. Since Revenge of Monsters from the Vault came out earlier this year, it only felt right to leave you with yet another movie list, this time slices of vintage horror that I covered in that book and its predecessor that make ideal viewing in the run-up to the big night.

For those of us who watch and read horror all year round–or, at least, for me–not every horror movie is a Halloween movie. While I may watch the sun-baked nihilism of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the urban decay of Candyman during the month of October, the true Halloween movies are those that combine fun with fear. Those autumnal tricks and treats that take place in quaint little towns with dark secrets and in shadowed suburbs.

Halloween movies are the Gothic chillers of yesteryear, with fog-shrouded sets where rubber bats dangle on wires and painted shadows grow impossibly long. There aren’t many old horror movies that actually take place on Halloween, but that’s okay. There are plenty of overgrown graveyards and old dark houses, which are just as good.

Here are 14 (give or take) movies that I wrote up in either Monsters from the Vault or its sequel that will give you plenty of creaky chills for the long, dark nights until Halloween is here at last. Think of it as a haunted advent calendar, if you’d like. And stop back by every day for the remainder of the month for a devil’s dozen (plus one) of movies to watch on a double-bill with the stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

On the 18th watch The Tingler (1959). I showed it to a crowded theatre at the Tapcade just a few nights ago, so I can vouch that it’s a good kick-off for the run up to Halloween. If you came out and saw it with me, feel free to substitute 13 Ghosts (1960).

On the 19th watch Fiend without a Face (1958), the most science fictional flick you’ll find in this list, which is why it’s positioned so far from the day itself. Those invisible crawling brain monsters can’t be beat, though.

On the 20th watch The Vampire Doll (1970). Any of Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” of Dracula movies will do, but Vampire Doll is my favorite of the bunch.

On the 21st watch The Living Skeleton (1968), another Japanese import and an even weirder one than last night’s picture. There are mad scientists, rubber bats, and a chorus of skeletons. What more could you want?

On the 22nd watch Valley of the Zombies (1946), a Republic potboiler that’s just a short hop away from being a serial. There’s no valley and no zombies, but there is a great villain named Ormand Murks and, as if they were spoiled by that name, a guy gets killed off-screen whose name is Dr. Lucifer Garland.

On the 23rd follow that up with Night of Terror (1933), an old dark house picture from their heyday that features metafictional narration from its maniac killer and a guest turn by Bela Lugosi.

On the 24th we’re heading into the final weekend so it’s time to watch Blood Bath (1966), one variation on four movies all produced by Roger Corman. This version has a vampire, of sorts, and a particularly Halloween-y sequence in which the heroine and the vampire are both accosted by some costumed revelers.

On the 25th it’s Friday night so relax with a night at The House on Skull Mountain (1974), complete with voodoo and flashing skulls and one of the best matte paintings you’ll ever see.

On the 26th we head back into black-and-white territory with City of the Dead (1960). This chiller not only features a guest turn by Christopher Lee, but it’s got the foggiest little town you can think of, and plenty of witches and spooky graveyards.

On the 27th we’re winding down the last weekend with Return of the Vampire (1944). Bela Lugosi again in a film full of great bits, maybe most notable for the fact that it was made during the War and set in England in the midst of the Blitz. How many vampires were shaken from their tombs by falling bombs, after all?

The 28th begins our final countdown, and what better movie to kick it off than Mark of the Vampire (1935)? It’s cheesy, it’s creaky, it’s an unofficial remake of the classic lost silent film London After Midnight made by the same director. In short, it’s a treasure.

On the 29th watch House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula (they’re both pretty short).

The 30th is my birthday, so you’d think I’d pick a favorite movie for you to watch on this day. I thought about it, but I feel like the night before Halloween is maybe the ideal night to watch Spider Baby (1967) if you’re going to. It’s got one foot planted in the films of the past and one in Rob Zombie’s films of the present, and the theme song alone should be enough to make it a Halloween staple.

On the 31st watch The Old Dark House (1932). It’s the one I would have picked for my birthday, if I was going to. And whatever you watch or read or do this season, have a HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Now it’s All Hallow’s Eve, the moon is full…66a66c6b3b1d962dbe2636ae80b9c675

Okay, it’s not quite All Hallow’s Eve just yet, but hey, as the song says later, every day is Halloween and today is October 1, the first day of the month-long celebration that is the spookiest (and therefore best) time of the year. The time when the rest of the world finally dresses up at least a little bit like how it is in my head all year ’round.

As I have intimated before now, this October is gonna be busy for me. I did the math the other day, and while I’ll be around most days so that I can, y’know, actually work, there are only eight nights in the entire month of October when I don’t have something booked. Some of those somethings are things I’m attending, others are things I’m hosting.

As I’ve said before, I’ll be hosting a special screening of The Tingler on October 14 and The House on Haunted Hill on October 27, both at the Screenland Tapcade. There’ll be food and drink and ghosts… plus prizes and some William Castle-esque gimmicks. You’re all invited.

Also at the Tapcade, I’ll be co-hosting a special Weird Wednesday screening of Lake Mungo. So special, in fact, that it’s happening on a Tuesday, October 29 – the day before my birthday. Those are the movies I’m hosting, but I’ll also be joining Tyler Unsell and Signal Horizon for a Ghoulish Evening with Orrin Grey at the Afterword Tavern & Shelves in the Crossroads on October 23, and something else that’s brewing (pun possibly intended) on October 25 at the Big Rip Brewing Company.

That’s just the stuff I’m actually hosting. I’ll also be seeing Goblin live, scoring Suspiria and Deep Red, catching the infamous gore cut of Tammy the T-Rex, attending my annual tradition, the Nerdoween Triple Feature at the Tapcade, as well as Dismember the Alamo, which are on consecutive days meaning that, with Analog Sunday the day after, I’ll be watching at least eight movies on the big screen that weekend.

It’s all good stuff, but it’s also a lot. So hopefully you’ll hear from me throughout the month – as I said, I’ll be at home most of the time during the day, because I’ve gotta work sometime – and I’m doing the Countdown to Halloween, as always. But in case you don’t, know that I’m out celebrating and drinking deep from the Halloween season, and you should be, too, if you’re into that kind of thing.

As promised, here’s the full schedule for the Screenland‘s SHOCKtober event, which is taking over the joint for the entire month of Halloween. I’ll be hosting screenings of The Tingler on October 14 and House on Haunted Hill on October 27. Both are FREE, and we’re going to have a hell of a time. There’ll be treats and prizes and maybe even a few Castle-style gimmicks, you’ll just have to come out and see!

I’ll also be attending Suspiria and Deep Red with live scores by Goblin on October 8 and 9, the Nerdoween Triple Feature on October 18, Analog Sunday featuring The Basement on October 20, and the CarpenterFest triple feature on October 26, plus as many of the others as I can cram in there.

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